You are the light of the world... (Matthew 5:13a).

I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength (Phil. 3:14).

We’d come out of quarantine, though just for the weekend–a family friend having offered us their unoccupied North Carolina beach house. Honestly, we nearly jumped at the chance–a change of scenery. A change of pace.

On our first night, the full moon’s brilliance reflected upon the water, spotlighting the rippling waves, and they danced–a waltzing trail beckoning, as if calling out …

Follow me. 

As I stood on the shore with my daughter, my eyes traced the lighted path, and I thought again of Grandma, whom Allie never met, and all that her life–her legacy–have given me.


Helga Elizabeth left her quarantine–having been isolated in her upstairs bedroom at the Heikkinen Farm after testing positive for TB–at some point prior to March 22, 1937, the day of her younger sister Esther’s death.

Being the oldest of the remaining children, their parents beside themselves with grief, it fell to Grandma to plan Esther’s funeral. A gathering of family and friends joined together on a cold, late March day in the small Toivola cemetery, and Esther was buried there. Today, her gravestone can be found beside her parents’, right where she belongs.

Esther’s funeral in Toivola Cemetery–1937

The strength of character–or sisu in Finnish–that was forged in Grandma during her time of quarantine carried her through the doorway of her upstairs bedroom, down the hall, and past a window. It enabled her to do the hard in heartbreaking times, later taking her from a town called Toivola, though the hope hewn in her heart throughout her first two decades there never waned.

Such sisu carried her on to continue high school in the neighboring towns of Houghton and Hancock, and she finally graduated on May 25, 1937 from Painesdale High (near Toivola), one month shy of her twenty-second birthday.

Such sisu guided her as she later pursued a degree in cosmetology, graduating from Del Mar Beauty School in Detroit. She then attended Cody Night School where she studied secretarial skills–typing, shorthand, bookkeeping, and the like.

Such sisu nudged her on when she sought out and gained employment at Sears, Roebuck, and Co. as a domestic cosmetology supervisor, and it prodded her onward when she knocked at over 300 houses, taking the 1960 census door to door.

Sisu encouraged her to stay strong through rehabilitation and many months of healing after a tragic automobile accident in 1968, and it saw her through breast cancer and a radical mastectomy in 1977.

After her automobile accident in 1968, nursing a shattered knee and tibial fracture post surgery

Many years earlier, it was sisu, as well as a bit of humor and some of Betty’s soft side, that first caught the attention of a young man named Frederick “Fritz” Simonson. Grandma, an 11th grader at Hancock High School, was living in Hancock, Michigan with her Aunt Hilma. Encouraged to come along on a blind date with her cousin Ellen and a pal named Leonard, Grandma met Fritz at a dance.

A young Frederick Simonson

The two dated until Fritz left for Duluth, MN where he worked on or near the Great Lakes. Separated for six years, with no ongoing correspondence, they unexpectedly met again on a Detroit street car while Grandma was in cosmetology school. They fell in love and, after dating for about a year and a half, married at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Detroit on June 28, 1940.

Wedding Day — June 28, 1940

Sisu saw the couple through many months of separation due to Grandpa’s employment with Ford Motor Company, sailing the Great Lakes and traveling beyond. And sisu saw them through Grandpa’s own bouts of ill health–thought to be the result of experimental radiation therapy he’d underwent to treat cystic acne.

Sisu forged the way, and they had two children–Mary Elizabeth, born on October 31, 1943, and Frederick John, born on July 29th, 1948. They raised their family in Detroit–experiencing the changing times post World War II, the idyllic 1950s and, later, the sometimes volatile 1960s. As often as they could, they delighted in visits to the Heikkinen Farm in the Upper Peninsula.

Mom Mary and her younger brother Fred in front of their home in Detroit.



Mom’s graduation picture

Grandma passed down her sisu to her own children, and my own sweet mother Mary has certainly shared hers with her daughters–Katie and me. We are blessed beyond measure to have their blood running through our veins, and while strength of character has much to do with one’s willing desire to grow it–allowing both the seasons of ease, as well as times of hardship to further develop one’s sisu–there is something to be said about having a guiding force to follow.

And they’ve certainly been that–Grandma Betty and Mom–not to mention my dear mothers-in-law, my paternal grandma Alice, and many, many other women of faith–friends, and mentors too numerous to count.

My cup is full and runneth over.

And my hope?

That as it does, such will be like the moon. Its light–which is really no light of its own but merely that of a Greater Source–spills out, creating a path for others to see and follow, that each will know better, day by day, the strength that comes from knowing and reflecting Jesus, the One True Light of the world.

The Light that shined onto Grandma and Mom–the only True Source of sisu–will, Lord willing, continue to shine on me and my sister, then onto our daughters and a waiting world desperate for Light.

A newborn Maureen with her momma and both her dear grandmothers–1969

Two girls with their grandparents–on Mom and Dad’s 50th anniversary several years ago.

Dear Jesus, thank you for mothers and mother figures, and thank you for Mother’s Day. Thank you, too, for birthmothers–those who enabled me to be a mother. And thank you for Your mother, Mary–who said, “May it be to me as You have said” (Luke 1:38) when God called her. Her “yes” brought forth Light.

Sweet Savior–Light of the world–shine into all our broken places, and help us reflect You, today and everyday! 

Fritz and Betty Simonson–married 62 years, 7 months, and 1 week. Grandpa passed away on 2/4/03, and Grandma lived until 12/13/11. They loved each other until the very end. They love each other still. Both are buried near Betty’s parents in the Toivola Cemetery, Esther close by.